ShowCenter – Review

Submitted by Simon McCaughey – The idea of the Showcenter is to make media files stored on your PC available for use on your TV in the living room.

I don’t have (and can’t get) broadband, so my selection of media is limited to a few ripped DVDs, loads of MP3’s, and about 1000 photos. My main objective was to remove the DVD player and VCR from the living room, so I only have a TV, HiFi, TiVo and Showcenter…

Software Installation
The software installation is smooth, just like any other application, and then it scans your disk for media. I hit one problem here – because I mirror my website on my local disk I have all the images stored 3-4 times on the disk (100%, 50%…etc). The Showcenter picked them all up, and although it managed to put them into separate albums, this was still a little annoying. Apart from that all was well. Version 1.?? comes packaged with the Showcenter, but version 1.5 RC is available for download, so I immediately did an upgrade. This provides a firmware upgrade for the player too.

Hardware Installation
If you already have a network set up or understand networking things, this part would be a breeze. Just plug in, and off you go. In my case however I have 2 un-configured Ethernet cards in my PC, so in the end I copied the Showcenter address, and gave the LAN card a similar address. Then it worked….

The Showcenter
When you power it on it comes up with a splash screen, then a server selection screen. This facilitates multiple Showcenter servers on the network, here you could select which one to connect to. Making a selection and pressing “ok” then loads the main menu, allowing selection of music, movies, photos, or settings.

So what’s it like?
To be honest, after having used TiVo, I think anything is going to be a disappointment. The remote control is plasticy, badly laid out, clumsy and unresponsive. The box itself is quite short, and looks really well under my TiVo, but it has two bright blue LEDs on the front, which can be a little annoying.

On balance I still think it is an excellent product, although all its functionality is limited, and there is lots of “would be nice” things, lets remember that this is only release 1.5, and it has come a long way since release 1 (November 2003).

It is now possible, and simple to browse our digital photo collection, listen to MP3’s and watch a selection films without all the trauma of getting off the sofa, and placing a disk in a player:) The unit also interfaces with a surround sound decoder to give the full experience of the original DVD, and can playback the AC3 audio from either the ripped VOB, or from the reduced DivX or XVid file.

Over the weekend I ripped quite a few of the kids DVDs (they have more than me) and they all play very well on the Showcenter. I just need a capture card for the PC now to copy the videos onto my disk…

The latest version of the Showcenter software includes support for internet radio, and also most of Pinnacles range of PCTV cards, which I believe allows you to watch TV, schedule recordings, etc through the Showcenter. I have a PCTV Stereo on order, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

On my setup the menus work quickly, and I see no speed issues, although others complain that they are slow.

Most of the criticism of this unit on the web has been regarding the Wireless connection, but I have a hard wired LAN, so didn’t need to dabble in the 802.11b.
I also can’t comment on AV receiver integration, because I don’t have one!

One more thing
For all us tekkie web nerds, the Showcenter doesn’t stop there. Basically the Showcenter is a web browser. The screens are all generated from php scripts in a DocRoot directory on the PC, using an http server running on port 8000. This gives flexibility only limited by your imagination (and free time). I had a quick play and managed to add a basic weather screen to one of the sub-menus. There is a sourceforge project called OpenShowCenter which provides an alternative to the bundled software.
The Showcenter is also completely skinnable, and several skins or themes come with the software. If you have any web graphic ability at all you should be able to customise a skin for yourself.

My Showcenter is here to stay. It may be a little rough around the edges, but I’ll give it some time, and hopefully things will straighten out. My experience is limited by a lack of “other things” – no broadband means I have no downloaded DivX movies / series, no internet radio, and I can’t surf the web from my box. I have not (yet) got a tuner card for my PC, so my film collection, which is largely on video, is useless for now.

The longer I have it, the more I like it, and would recommend it to anyone!


Official Showcenter page

photos and screenshots of the Showcenter

Codec comparison

Showcenter General Forum

Tom’s hardware – Showcenter review

Alternative Software


Neuston (version 2+ doesn’t run on Showcenter)

DVD Ripping
AutoGK Guide

The Official DVD Decrypter Website

DVD Shrink: Shrink your DVDs to fit DVDR!

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